While the large scale withdrawal from Iraq and (partially) from Afghanistan have been some of the largest traditional national defense efforts of 2014, the year offered a view into a changing and decentralized landscape of threats. From cyber attacks from China and North Korea, to the continuing failure of talks between Israel, the Palestinians, and Iran, to the emergence of ISIL, a self-proclaimed Islamic State. On the home front, the southwest border has been it’s most secure in years, and a push towards transparency and open access has characterized many national security initiatives. Let’s take a look at some of the year’s largest national security trends.
Department of Homeland Security
You can’t talk about national security trends without talking about the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Homeland Security is the main government agency tasked with defending our nation’s border and interior. At just twelve years of age the agency has over 240,000 employees and encompasses 22 agencies ranging from border control to aviation, to the coast guard and FEMA. In the past it’s been ridiculed as unwieldy, disorganized, and a source of waste, but in the last year they’ve been trying to clear their record. The top three initiatives the DHS wrangled with in 2014 included: transparency and government compliance, fixing the immigration system, and counter-terror measures.
President Obama’s Transperancy and Open Government Memo pushed both collaboration as well as transparency in government agencies. In regards to transparency, the DHS’s Office of Immigration Statistics began collecting and making public the number of people apprehended, removed, returned, or repatriated every year. Use-of-force documents were released by the Border Patrol–data long sought by the media–throughout the last year. And in the words of the DHS Secretary, the agency went from “worst to first” in regards to speaking in plain writing in memos, public announcements and so forth. This is in compliance with the 2010 Plain Writing Act, for which the Center for Plain Writing ranked the DHS, Social Security Administration, and SEC as the three top agencies in 2014. Though the DHS was originally founded to preclude inter-agency communication issues like those partially responsible for 9/11, the DHS has struggled with it’s size and bureaucratic nature. It’s a hard task, as the DHS is composed of 22 agencies, in 70 buildings, and 40 locations. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson is attempting to remedy the situation, however, doing away with the previous stove-piped effort and instead establishing JTF east and west headquarters along the southern border at which CBP, ICE, CIS, and the Coast Guard work together under one command to secure border patrol.
Anti-Terror efforts are still the cornerstone of the Department of Homeland Security, and in 2014 were largely tied to border patrol, domestic investigations, and cybersecurity. One growing threat that fell under the purview of the DHS’ border control and domestic investigation auspices has included the rise of foreign fighters (those who leave their native country, travel abroad, and take up fighting towards extremist goals). the DHS is composed of 22 agencies, in 70 buildings, and 40 locations.The evolution of slick marketing and public relations channels for extremist entities online is a matter for cybersecurity experts to detect and monitor at the earliest of stages.
Department of Defense
Perhaps the largest component in our homeland security is the Department of Defense: the world’s largest employer with over 3.2 million employees in the many defense, intelligence, and military departments under its command. At 45% of the budgeted global military spending (more than the next 17 militaries combined) at times it’s hard to even give an update on the going-ons in the DoD. In broad strokes, however, the most pressing DoD issues of 2014 have included the rise of ISIL, and the now present threat of destabilization by climate change.
An October 2014 report by the Pentagon reported decisively that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security through increased terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty, and food shortage risks. It’s already begun to hit home in places like the Hampton Roads region of Virginia– which has the largest concentration of American military sites in the world– a number of which are repeatedly being flooded due to rising sea levels. With global temperatures rising, many new arctic passageways are open for further trade and expansion, leading to demands for new extreme temperature demands on troops. As NPR reports, the U.S. military has already begun restructuring its forces for battle in the far north.
With the self-labelled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) proclaiming itself a worldwide Caliphate– and taking over large sections of Syria and Iraq– the US has intervened in a variety of ways since mid way through 2014. In August, the U.S. assembled a coalition of partners who contributed training, troops, or equipment to fighting ISIL. Humanitarian aid to those who are under threat of genocide has also been presented. After August military effort was expanded to protect Iraqi infrastructure and provide air cover for Iraqi troops. Air strikes in Syria and Iraq have subsequently increased, and resulted in the Iraqi army retaking large tracts of land. As of January 2015, the US had carried out over 9,600 of 15,000 air strikes against ISIL. After some time without a name, the U.S. led air campaign against ISIL was named Operation Inherent Resolve.
Other military involvements around the world include around 10,000 troops still deployed to Afghanistan (set to drop to 5,500 by the end of 2015). 100 troops in Operation Atlantic Resolve are stationed with NATO allies so as to reassure Eastern European NATO members that the alliance will help provide defense if needed. In the Pacific, troops are gearing up for a second and third pathway in which a series of exercises and training events with partner militaries contribute to re-balancing the Asia-Pacific region. Finally, in South Korea, the 2nd Infantry Divisions 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team will be replaced after 50 years by a rotational brigade combat team, with 4,600 soldiers set to deploy by summer.
Small numbers of US ground troops have also been quite effective at reclaiming selected targets in Iraq since the ISIL advance. Around 800 U.S. troops secured American installations like the Embassy and airport in Baghdad. One hundred thirty military advisers were deployed to northern Iraq, and 30 Marines and special forces members landed on Mount Sinjar to evacuate refugees. By February of 2015, around 4,400 U.S. ground troops were in Iraq.
While ISIS (or ISIL) have brought about the radicalization of a region and subsequent terror attacks by those who have been radicalized, the global advance of terror and terror attacks is much broader. Fifty-five nations recorded one or more death due to terrorist activity in 2013, with 5 nations accounting for 82% of terror-related deaths: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria. As a whole, terror attacks are on a rise, with 11,133 terror-related deaths in 2012 rising by 61% in 2013 to 17,958. In broader terms, the terror-related deaths of 2013 represent a fivefold increase in the number of people killed by terrorism since the year 2000. The Middle East and Africa are at the center of terrorist organizations with territorial aims, with groups attempting to carve out space in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Southern Turkey. Historically, terrorist organizations have largely not been stopped by the use of force. Over 80% of terrorist organizations who have operated since the 1960’s have been eliminated through policing or the initiation of a local political process. In the same time frame, only 10% of terrorist organizations have been said to have achieved their goals, and only 7% have been eliminated by full military engagement.
The next largest perceived threat of 2014 was the nuclear capabilities of Iran. According to a report by Iran Watch, a website published by the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Iran could use their 9,000 first generation centrifuges to–theoretically–produce enough weapon-grade uranium to fuel a single nuclear warhead in about one-and-three-quarter months. If they accessed their entire stockpile of low-enriched uranium, they could, after enrichment, fuel around seven further nuclear warheads. According to several interviews, however, the US has a variety of methods for preventing such a rush to weapons grade uranium, and has in fact built facilities that replicate the nuclear capabilities of Iran in order to test potential U.S. countermeasures. While Iran are one of (if not the) leading state sponsors of terrorism, the actual issue of a fully-nuclear Iran seems to be taken care of, and is more of a public worry due to difficulties in selling a nuclear deal with Iran to the U.S. or Israeli public than to an actual current threat that nuclear capabilities could be enhanced unmonitored.
North Korea is believed to have developed enough fissile material for 6-8 plutonium-based nuclear weapons as well as assisted the nuclear enrichment programs of Syria and Iran. According to both Pyongyang, South Korea, and America, North Korea currently have long-range missiles capable of hitting almost all of the continental U.S. North Korea also have hundreds of shorter range missiles deployed that can target South Korea, Japan, and U.S. bases in Okinawa and Guam. Biological and chemical weapons such as anthrax, smallpox, and other weaponry are also at the disposal of the rogue state. The high profile cyber attack on Sony over the satirical film featuring North Korea, “The Interview” has led to further sanctions against North Korean individuals and agencies meant to complement previous Nuclear sanctions, even if the organizations sanctioned are not believed to have had a role in the hack.
Whatever the front on which homeland security must be preserved, the U.S. is by far the largest national defense spending nation in the world, and continues to function as a buffer between smaller states, security threats, and regional destabilization. After the blowback from the release of confidential intelligence presented by Edward Snowden, 2014 proved a year in which national security agencies continued to make strides towards stability abroad, steadily adapted to new threats like cyber attacks and ISIL, and moved towards greater transparency and inter-agency communication.